Saturday, April 25

Powerful Testimony: Byron Garcia "Baby-G"

Byron Garcia is one of the young men in our network of house churches who works with gangs and street kids. His testimony is one of the most powerful I have ever heard of the transforming power of the Gospel to change a life around. So many have been impacted by his story that recently the 700 Club came down and did the following piece for their Spanish-speaking audiences.

Links to previous blog entries (English) relating to Byron and his ministry...

Byron's story

Former gang leader uses rap to spread the Word

Dancing in the rain

Former gang members reaching Guayaquil with the Gospel

This next music video is one of "Baby-G's" best known "hits". I have been in secular concerts with Byron where everyone goes wild when this song starts, that's how popular it has gotten locally. All those participating in the video are kids he has won to the Lord. They live in the environment depicted in the video and use similar musical themes as a way of connecting to those around them living in violence and drug/alcohol abuse. For all of us talking and writing about missional, this is a bunch who are doing it without ever having heard of the term!

Pray for Byron. Along with about 20 other house church leaders, we spent the morning today in a time of prayer and fasting. Byron is going through a tough time and needing a fresh touch of the Spirit in his life. Working with kids coming out of abuse and dysfunctional families is very hard. There are many disappointments in the ministry and discouragement is an ever present enemy. Pray that God would give him a fresh vision and passion for continuing on in the task of reaching a segment of society that nobody else is touching.

Wednesday, April 22

David and Svea Flood

Ever been angry at God? Felt disappointed, confused or let-down by the Lord? After reading my previous blog post about Marilyn Laszlo, a fellow missionary serving in Argentina sent me the following missionary story of David and Svea Flood. Actually it is more an incredible GOD STORY. While a bit long for a blog entry, I encourage you to take the time to read the entire story. You won't be sorry, and might even need a Kleenex or two before getting to the end!


Back in 1921, a missionary couple named David and Svea Flood went with their two-year-old son from Sweden to the heart of Africa-to what was then called the Belgian Congo. They met up with another young Scandinavian couple, the Ericksons, and the four of them sought God for direction. In those days of much tenderness and devotion and sacrifice, they felt led of the Lord to set out from the main mission station and take the gospel to a remote area.

This was a huge step of faith. At the village of N'dolera they were rebuffed by the chief, who would not let them enter his town for fear of alienating the local gods.

The two couples opted to go half a mile up the slope and build their own mud huts'.

They prayed for a spiritual breakthrough, but there was none.

The only contact with the villagers was a young boy, who was allowed to sell them chickens and eggs twice a week. Svea Flood-a tiny woman only four feet, eight inches tall-decided that if this was the only African she could talk to, she would try to lead the boy to Jesus. And in fact, she succeeded. But there were no other encouragements.

Meanwhile, malaria continued to strike one member of the little band after another.

In time the Ericksons decided they had had enough suffering and left to return to the central mission station. David and Svea Flood remained near N'dolera to go on alone.

Then, of all things, Svea found herself pregnant in the middle of the primitive wilderness. When the time came for her to give birth, the village chief softened enough to allow a midwife to help her. A little girl was born, whom they named Aina.

The delivery, however, was exhausting, and Svea Flood was already weak from bouts of malaria. The birth process was a heavy blow to her stamina. She lasted only another seventeen days.

Inside David Flood, something snapped in that moment. He dug a crude grave, buried his twenty-seven-year-old wife, and then took his children back down the mountain to the mission station. Giving his newborn daughter to the Ericksons, he snarled, "I'm going back to Sweden. I've lost my wife, and I obviously can't take care of this baby. God has ruined my life."

With that, he headed for the port, rejecting not only his calling, but God himself.

Within eight months both the Ericksons were stricken with a mysterious malady and died within days of each other. The baby was then turned over to some American missionaries, who adjusted her Swedish name to "Aggie" and eventually brought her back to the United States at age three.

This family loved the little girl and were afraid that if they tried to return to Africa, some legal obstacle might separate her from them. So they decided to stay in their home country and switch from missionary work to pastoral ministry. And that is how Aggie grew up in South Dakota. As a young woman, she attended North Central Bible College in Minneapolis. There she met and married a young man named Dewey Hurst.

Years passed. The Hursts enjoyed a fruitful Ministry. Aggie gave birth first to a daughter, then a son. In time her husband became president of a Christian college in the Seattle area, and Aggie was intrigued to find so much Scandinavian heritage there.

One day a Swedish religious magazine appeared in her mailbox. She had no idea who had sent it, and of course she couldn't read the words. But as she turned the pages, all of a sudden a photo stopped her cold. There in a primitive setting was a grave with a white cross-and on the cross were the words SVEA FLOOD.

Aggie jumped in her car and went straight for a college faculty member who, she knew, could translate the article.

"What does this say?" she demanded.

The instructor summarized the story: It was about missionaries who had come to N'dolera long ago ... the birth of a white baby ... the death of the young mother ... the one little African boy who had been led to Christ ... and how, after the whites had all left, the boy had grown up and finally persuaded the chief to let him build a school in the village.

The article said that gradually he won all his students to Christ... the children led their parents to Christ... even the chief had become a Christian. Today there were six hundred Christian believers in that one village....

All because of the sacrifice of David and Svea Flood.

For the Hursts' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, the college presented them with the gift of a vacation to Sweden.

There Aggie sought to find her real father. An old man now, David Flood had remarried, fathered four more children, and generally dissipated his life with alcohol. He had recently suffered a stroke. Still bitter, he had one rule in his family: "Never mention the name of God- because God took everything from me.

After an emotional reunion with her half brothers and half sister, Aggie brought up the subject of seeing her father. The others hesitated. "You can talk to him," they replied, "even though he's very ill now. But you need to know that whenever he hears the name of God, he flies into a rage. Aggie was not to be deterred. She walked into the squalid apartment, with liquor bottles everywhere, and approached the seventy-three-year-old man lying in a rumpled bed. "Papa" she said tentatively.

He turned and began to cry. "Aina," he said. "I never meant to give you away."

"It's all right, Papa," she replied, taking him gently in her arms. "God took care of me."

The man instantly stiffened. The tears stopped. "God forgot all of us. Our lives have been like this because of Him." He turned his face back to the wall. Aggie stroked his face and then continued, undaunted. "Papa, I've got a little story to tell you, and it's a true one.

You didn't go to Africa in vain. Mama didn't die in vain. The little boy you won to the Lord grew up to win that whole village to Jesus Christ. The one seed you planted just kept growing and growing. Today there are six hundred African people serving the Lord because you were faithful to the call of God in your life. ... Papa, Jesus loves you. He has never hated you." The old man turned back to look into his daughter's eyes. His body relaxed.

He began to talk. And by the end of the afternoon, he had come back to the God he had resented for so many decades.

Over the next few days, father and daughter enjoyed warm moments together. Aggie and her husband soon had to return to America-and within a few weeks, David Flood had gone into eternity.

A few years later, the Hursts were attending a high-level evangelism conference in London, England, when a report was given from the nation of Zaire (the former Belgian Congo). The superintendent of the national church, representing some 110,000 baptized believers, spoke eloquently of the gospel's spread in his nation. Aggie could not help going to ask him afterward if he had ever heard of David and Svea Flood. "Yes, madam," the man replied in French, his words then being translated into English. "It was Svea Flood who led me to Jesus Christ. I was the boy who brought food to your parents before you were born. In fact, to this day your mother's grave and her memory are honored by all of us." He embraced her in a long, sobbing hug. Then he continued, "You must come to Africa to see, because your mother is the most famous person in our history."

In time that is exactly what Aggie Hurst and her husband did. They were welcomed by cheering throngs of villagers. She even met the man who had been hired by her father many years before to carry her back down the mountain in a hammock-cradle.

The most dramatic moment, of course, was when the pastor escorted Aggie to see her mother's white cross for herself. She knelt in the soil to pray and give thanks.

Later that day, in the church, the pastor read from John 12:24: "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." He then followed with Psalm 126:5: "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy."

Sunday, April 19

Marilyn Laszlo

I love missionary stories. More often than not, their stories are--at best--heard by a very small segment of the Christian church. Those individuals, ministries and churches with big budgets and access to the media get a lot more attention. But some of the most amazing stories of Christendom are about fellow believers who's names we have never heard, but are well known and talked about in Heaven.

The Marilyn Laszlo story is one of these. I first heard about her life and ministry on the Oh LORD, May You Open Wide Our Hearts! blog of an unknown missionary serving somewhere in ???

To learn more about the Marilyn Laszlo story, here are a couple of books:

Mission Possible.

A is for Airstrip: A Missionary's Jungle Adventure.

Her blog (though a bit in need of updating!) is: Missionary Moment with Marilyn Laszlo.

To hear an audio message by Marilyn click here.

Thursday, April 16

Carefully pouring oil on the process

Wolfgang Simson states in "Houses That Change the World" ...

I believe we have moved from a colonial era of mission into what I call 'national mission', where each nation is called to develop its own models of church. Often enough this will have to happen through people in every nation praying for themselves, shedding their own tears, incarnating the living Christ afresh within their own time and culture. If the West could then come and, in the spirit of 'crucified colonialism'--the opposite of imperialism and denominationalism--carefully pour some oil on this process, it would be wonderful.
How, exactly, is one to "carefully pour some oil on this process?"

There is little doubt that countries like the USA and other developed Western nations have indeed been blessed by God. If we are truly One Body in Christ, shouldn't those parts of the Body who have more be willing to share liberally with those who have far less?

How might the West carefully pour some oil on the missions process so that it results in blessing and genuine Kingdom expansion?

1) Giving to the needs of the saints. In Acts and the Epistles we see this kind of sacrificial, liberal giving for fellow brethren going through hard times. The USA, and particularly the Church, has always been at the top of the list to help during a crisis both at home and around the world. At various times over the years, I have sent out prayer "SOS's" with the intent of illiciting prayer support for some of our fellow believers going through difficult trials. Occasionally we will receive love offerings to help these saints going through difficult moments. While this is not our intent in sharing these needs, the Lord has touched their heart to not only pray but give. We gladly help to channel these gifts for them. Being one-time gifts they do not create dependency; rather they have been the cause of much thanksgiving to the Father.

2) Matching what can be raised locally for various and sundry evangelistic and outreach projects. It is a terrible thing leading to dependency to simply provide the financial assistance to nationals and pay for everything. They will certainly let you do it, but it takes the blessing away from them of having to give from their own resources. An example of this is something we are currently dealing with. There is a particular discipleship course of study that we would like to use with the new believers. The price per book is $6. Few can afford this amount and if we charge $6/book very few will receive the benefit of this wonderful material. $3 is something that most could pay out over several weeks. They would cherish "their" book that they had bought. But someone has to pick up the remaining $3. This to me, is where a "bit of oil" from the outside might quietly be used to subsidize the cost of making disciples.

3) Independent, self-supporting ministries. Just as in the USA there are many charities and ministries that seek donors, overseas ministries likewise are in desperate need of financial support. I personally do not see the difference between a USA-based ministry asking for contributions and an international ministry doing so. Why is it OK to give to Focus on the Family (a great worthy ministry) but not Teleamigo or Camino de Salida, Dorcas, Clemencia, or any one of dozens of other struggling national Gospel ministries making a tremendous impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people and doing so on a shoe-string budget?

Any other ideas as to how oil might be poured upon international missions in such a way that it doesn't cause harm, but results in Kingdom growth and blessing to thousands?

DISCLAIMER: It is not my intention to use this post as a cloak to secretly petition funds for our work and ministry (as much as I would like to! :-). If anyone should write me back privately saying they would like to give to our work or any ministry mentioned above, I will write back instructions on how to make a donation to the IMB, or how to give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, the Southern Baptist annual offering taken up for international missions. We encourage individuals to give to missions through their local churches as led by the Lord, and if a SBC church-- through the Cooperative Program and LMCO.

Monday, April 13

Difference between small groups, cell church, house churches

In trying to understand house churches, one question that continually comes up is, what is the difference between small groups meeting in homes, cell churches that meet in homes, and house churches (simple/organic) that meet in homes?

Rad Zdero, in his Nexus: The World House Church Movement Reader does about as good a job as anyone in answering this question.

Many believers today participate in 'small groups', such as Bible study groups, prayer groups, accountability groups, affinity groups, etc. However, 'small groups' are often utilized differently in various types of...traditional churches, cell churches, and house church networks. Small groups in all three styles of churches usually meet in homes and encourage the participation of believers. But, that's where the similarities end. While we must clearly recognize and celebrate the hand of God in all manner of churches, there are important differences between traditional churches, cell churches, and house churches that should be understood.

On one end of the spectrum, for instance, is the traditional church...[that] uses small groups (often misnamed 'cell groups')--this can be described as a 'church WITH small groups.'

Further along the spectrum is the cell church that places an equal or greater emphasis on its mission-minded small groups (properly called 'cell groups') compared to its weekly large group services--this can be described as a 'church OF small groups.'

However, the house church network sees each house church as a fully fledged, autonomous, church in itself--'church IS small groups'.

So, does any of this differentiating about small groups really matter? I think so. How we define the church has huge implications as we are finding out here in Ecuador.

A few months ago Ecuador voted in a new Constitution. While it will take months to clarify which aspects of the many social changes get attention and actually get implemented, what is clear is that the duly-elected social government in power is intent on having its say in religious and church affairs. One of the first steps is to determine who is, and who is not a church according to secular criteria. Those deemed NOT officially recognized churches will be closed, and even face confiscation of properties. Those that cooperate by aligning themselves to the new laws, will have the government's blessing and be allowed to continue.

While I am still trying to understand the full implications of the changes being implemented, what I am seeing is a concerted move to try and slow down the tidal wave of people turning to Evangelical Christianity over the past 10-15 years. This is just the latest twist on what has been Satan's opposition to the Gospel from the very beginning.

So back to the original question. When the church handles large sums of money, hires staff/employees, manages properties, and coordinates ministries such as schools, day care centers, etc. then the government can easily intervene and dictate norms. But if the church IS the small home group, then how is a government going to try and regulate what is simply the gathering in homes of people done in Jesus Name? When the church is a 'liquid' non-bricks and mortar body of believers, it is much more difficult to slap upon them secular regulations.

Stay tuned. There is surely much more ahead in this ongoing unfolding of events. Keep us in your prayers, and if any reading have insight or experience in these matters, please feel free to comment. We need to hear your voice.

Friday, April 10

The third greatest commandment

Ever wonder what Jesus would have considered the third greatest commandment? Every one knows the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God, and the second to love our neighbor, but what follows in importance? Alan Knox shares his thoughts on what might be Jesus' third greatest commandment...

So, a lawyer asks Jesus which is the "great commandment". Jesus replied with two: 1) Love God and 2) Love your neighbor. But, Jesus said that the second was like the first. Also, Jesus said that "all the Law and the Prophets" depend on "these two commandments", not on one or the other, but on both.

As I was thinking about this recently, I wondered why Jesus gave the man two commandments. I mean, the man only asked for one, but Jesus gave him two. Why didn't Jesus just give him one? Or, why didn't Jesus give him three? What would have been the "third greatest commandment" according to Jesus?

When I read what people are saying about Jesus or about Christianity, it often seems that they think "the third greatest commandment" is more important than the first two that Jesus mentioned. What do I mean? Well, in books and teachings and blog posts and other means, people are often telling Christians what they must do to follow Jesus' teachings. And, love is very rarely at the top of the list. Instead, it seems people like to focus on what they must consider to be Jesus' "third greatest commandment". You know, things like:

Have faith!
Study the Bible!
Join the church!
Give your money!
Homeschool your children!
Be baptized!
Sign this covenant/confession!
Make disciples!
Speak in tongues!
Sing worship songs!
Be involved in the programs of the church!
Read the right books!

Of course, there are others who prefer to focus on Jesus' "third greatest commandment" as a prohibition or negative command:

Do not drink!
Do not curse!
Do not join THAT church!
Do not send your kids to public schools!
Do not speak in tongues!
Do not hang out with THOSE people!
Do not read THOSE books!

I guess I could go on and on. Now, some of these are very good things. But, Jesus didn't list these among his great commandment list. Instead, Jesus stopped at two: 1) Love God and 2) Love your neighbor.

Why would Jesus stop with these two? Why did he not include other commands in his list? Are we wrong if we place alot of emphasis on love? Are we wrong if we don't place alot emphasis on love?
So, what "third commandment" do you hear that takes the place of #1 and #2?

Sunday, April 5

Back in Ecuador

Dear blog reader, friend, family, and prayer partner,

We arrived safe and sound back in Guayaquil this past Monday to begin our 7th term of service. God has been good to us as a family during the ten months we were in Texas. We are grateful to the Bulverde Baptist Church for providing us such a restful place to recuperate and deal with family and medical issues. We are already missing the cool breezes and "the view" from the hill top. I confess we are having a tough time re-adapting to the stifling equatorial heat and our clothes sticking to us all day!

Seeing so many of you over the past months was such a blessing to us. Our only regret is that we weren't able to visit personally with all of you who have so faithfully supported us in prayer over the years. We will especially miss our Thursday night house church family--and those wonderful deer/coon/pig burgers!

Thank you also for all the notes, prayers and support in the recent passing away of Linda's brother, Tom Cowan. As frustrated as we had been at being delayed in getting back to Ecuador, we can now see that the "delay" was a God thing. It was important for Linda and us to be together with her family during this difficult time.

On another note, we have been pleased with the media coverage received of what God continues to do in our midst. Since January, no less than five stories have been released by the IMB and picked up by several of the State Baptist papers for publication. For those who would like to read these inspiring stories of people we work with, click on any of the following linked articles.

Ecuadorian house churches support own missionary

Former gang members reaching Guayaquil with Gospel

Unlikely Ecuadorian church planters prove effective

Jesus: The way off the streets for prostitutes in Ecuador

Former gang leader uses rap to spread the Word

For a more personal word about our feelings in coming back to Ecuador and some of what God did in our lives during our time in the States click on Returning to Ecuador and/or Healing as a process.

While it has been difficult saying good-bye to all of you, we come back to Ecuador with the assurance that the best days of the harvest are still ahead.

Every time you eat a banana (one of Ecuador's main exports) our prayer is that the Holy Spirit would use that banana you are enjoying to remind you to pray for us and Ecuador. Specifically:

--Pray for Linda and myself Colossians 1:9-12
--Pray the Lord of the harvest for laborers (Luke 10:2)
--Pray that God would give us love for the people here
--Pray for safety and protection
--Pray for that our children would follow the Lord whole-heartedly, and become Christ-like in all their ways

Friday, April 3

Calling: What is that all about?

A few days ago I wrote a post entitled Returning to Ecuador. I stand by what I wrote, but after talking and responding to quite a few private emails and conversations with several who were puzzled by what I had written, I now realize more clarification is needed.

For me, the following testimony written by a fellow missionary in Italy is a good compliment piece expressing what I was trying to express in my initial article.

FIRST-PERSON: Calling an 'undeniable,
irresistible' force
By Chris Watts

ROME (BP)--Calling, to me, is a funny thing.

In my experience, God's call comes upon you with a furious intensity and drowns you in an incredible desire to do something huge and glorious, something that is completely beyond the measure of your own abilities.

It changes your path completely and thrusts you into a new and unknown world where utter reliance on the plan and providence of God is an absolute necessity. After a time, though, once the realities and routines of this new world have set in, some of that initial intensity fades a bit, and the calling evolves into the stabilizing foundation upon which every facet of your new life is built.

It never diminishes in its strength or importance, but rather than a sword with which to storm the walls of a lost world, calling becomes more of a compass for staying true to your path. I believe this evolution is necessitated by the fact that "the calling" serves two distinct roles.

People contentedly strolling along in an easy and comfortable life often need something violent and fierce to move them powerfully and awaken them to the harsh realities of a lost and dying world. Our Baptist cocoon often insulates us from the pain and hopelessness of a world without Christ.

Some of us, me included, need to be slapped pretty hard to see things clearly and hear the voice of God. Often it seems that change never comes to those who can stand to live without it. This initial calling causes us to be dissatisfied with anything else. It is undeniable and irresistible.

However, once you start down that path, you are confronted on a daily basis with these hard realities. You no longer need to be awakened; you need to be sustained. This life is incredibly difficult. A missionary must make the conscious decision every day that this lifestyle is still worth it. "The calling," always lurking in the background, often gives you the strength to keep trudging forward.

This doesn't mean the passion diminishes. On the contrary, the passion for the work grows as you witness with your own eyes the incredible ways in which God is at work in the world, as you see lives being transformed and you sense the intense pain in the hearts of those around you. You begin to understand the power of the Gospel and you long to see people receive the
love of Christ.

I am convinced that this job to which I have been called is the greatest, hardest and most worthwhile way in which I could spend my life. And until I am called, kicking and screaming, to something else, there is nothing that could make me quit.

-- Chris Watts and his wife, Colleen, serve as Southern Baptist missionaries in Rome. Originally from Georgia, they were appointed in 2000 and have a 1-year-old-son named Cotton.

Wednesday, April 1

Cúbreme - Lilly Goodman

The perfect song/prayer as we begin a new term of service here in Ecuador.